Common Ethical Violations Can Be Easily Eradicated With a Hotline

Common Ethical Violations Can Be Easily Eradicated With a Hotline

Ethical Decisions Ensure That Everyone's Best Interests Are Protected

An ethics reporting system is such a simple and cost-effective way for businesses to protect themselves from employee misconduct. Every day we hear stories related to frauds committed in the workplace. In the vast majority of cases there is someone who was privy to the impropriety, didn't necessarily benefit from it, yet never reported it.

Usually, the witness is afraid of some type of retaliation. Whether it's being ostracized in the workplace, passed over for advancement, or harassed in some manner, the easiest thing to do is to look the other way. By having an anonymous and confidential reporting system in place, a whistleblower can confidentially report anything that seems out of line with company policy. After all, isn't this the behaviour stakeholders want and require when hiring employees?

What is an ethical violation?

In a nutshell, an ethical violation is something that is - spoken, written, actioned - that violates a company's documented code of ethics, mission, vision, values, and culture. We also know that ethical violations laugh in the face of what is considered normal societal behaviour.

The ethical behaviour of most business professionals is regulated by codes of conduct. Most commonly in business, you'll see violations such as discrimination, safety violations or poor working conditions. As well, bribery, theft, or conflict of interest. Many of these not only are morally wrong but do cross the line into illegal territory that is handled outside the company.

Improper or fraudulent billing are ethics violations that can involve charging customers for services they did not receive. This most often happens in industries where the party who receives the bill is not the party who received the services. The prevalence of this specific ethics violation has led many insurance providers to issue a list of services to clients who could be subject to these offences, encouraging them to report discrepancies.

infographic how to create a speak up culture

Mishandling of Funds

There are several ways financial professionals can commit ethical violations. A prime example is not placing a client's funds into an approved escrow account. Managing escrow accounts is also often required for attorneys and real estate agencies. If they fail to do so and place client funds into personal or business accounts, they are generally in violation.

Lapsed Licensing

Many professionals are required to renew or update their licenses and certifications. This often requires that courses are taken and/or fees be paid. For various reasons, many professionals do not renew their documents before they expire. Since many clients (and often supervisors) do not check regularly, these ethics violations often go unnoticed if a regulatory body does not discover them.

Sexual Harassment

Crossing a sexual boundary is an ethics violation that is different than sexual harassment or sexual abuse. In sexual boundary cases, both parties may be willing participants however, something about the sexual relationship is inappropriate due to a code of conduct. Examples of these ethical violations can be found in doctor-patient relationships, consulting practices, educational settings, church forums or other in-person businesses. A psychiatrist engaging in a sexual relationship with a client he knows to be emotionally or sexually vulnerable is an ethics violation.

Conflict of Interest

Conflict of interest usually involves a professional who violates a client’s trust or places the client at risk because of dealings with a third party. These situations may arise with attorneys (a criminal defence lawyer who dates his client’s prosecutor) or consultants. It is often experienced on voting boards where there is a personal relationship between a voting party and a third party with a vested interest in the outcome of the vote. In these cases, the potential for a biased vote, or that the subject may provide information or engage in activities with opposing parties that jeopardize the outcome, is an obvious conflict of interest.

Handling of Sensitive Information

Improper handling of documentation is commonplace in numerous industries. It is often prevalent in the financial, health, legal and mining industries. Many documents and files contain sensitive and confidential information. When these items are not handled according to the rules and regulations governing them, a company's (and person's) privacy, finances, and safety can be jeopardized.

Workplace Safety

Ethics violations such as discrimination, safety violations, poor working conditions and releasing proprietary information are other examples. Situations such as bribery, forgery and theft, while certainly ethically improper, cross over into criminal activity and are often dealt with outside the company. In an effort to ensure that ethics violations do not occur, ethical codes of conduct should be crafted and distributed to the company’s executives and employees.

Eradicate Ethical Violations With a Whistleblower Hotline

Whistleblower hotlines connect employees to management via a safe place to voice concerns. Also called an ethics hotline, this safe space for employees to speak up is an important tool used to connect employees with management in order to gain a holistic understanding of a company's workplace culture.

As mentioned at the beginning, most of the time someone knows, or knew, something about the misconduct happening in the workplace, but didn't report it. Fear of being found out, fear of retaliation, and or just quite simply having no faith in the company actually considering the reported concern, and doing something about it are common reasons violations are never reported. When unreported ethics violations occur, businesses tend to experience financial and reputational damage.

However, when businesses prescribe too high standards of professional ethics, including creating a safe speak-up culture, customers feel comfortable doing business with them. And employees are happy coming into work every day.

Download an eBook that covers a few reasons why it's important to implement an ethics reporting system.

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photo Amanda Nieweler

Amanda Nieweler

Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.